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  • The Emotions in Early Chinese Philosophy by Curie Virág
  • Ellen Y. Zhang (bio)
The Emotions in Early Chinese Philosophy. by Curie Virág. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. 291. Hardcover $90.00, ISBN 978-0-19-049881-8.

This is the first book-length study of the conception of emotions (qing 情) in premodern, or more specifically, pre-Han Chinese philosophical traditions, ranging from the early-5th to the late-3rd centuries BCE. This era is known as the "Warring States period" in China and marked by the flourishing of a number of different schools of philosophers who advocated their visions of how society should be run. The author looks at wide-ranging views about the nature of emotions and their proper role in moral life espoused by representative thinkers of the time. The approach taken by the author is based on a premise that what constitutes emotions as phenomena in the world is of primary importance to questions concerning the normative status of emotions. When psychological categories such as the mind, human nature, and emotions are employed by early Chinese philosophers to explain the source of ethical authority or the foundation of knowledge, these categories embody "a naturalistic understanding of the workings of the world" as an ordered and harmonious system (p. 103). With that in mind, the author contends that the wide-ranging views of emotions or emotive intuitions in early Chinese philosophy show "a diversity of intellectual landscape in which basic questions of ethics and politics were the focus of major concern" (p. 24). Therefore, rather than simply accepting a longstanding assumption in the study of China that there is no clear line drawn between emotion and cognition in early Chinese philosophical thought as exemplified by the word xin 心 (heart/mind), the author attempts to avoid a mode of what may be called "exoticized reading" of the East or "reversed orientalism" (i.e., holistic thinking in the East vs. dualistic thinking in the West). Instead, the author takes an approach that is to "step out of such dualistic categories altogether" by examining alternative ways of thinking about the conceptions of emotions, cognition, self, ethics, political order and emergent perspectives on the natural world that shape those conceptions (p. 3).

The analysis consists of six parts, corresponding to six ways of exploring the conceptions of emotions in the Chinese classical tradition and their connections to ethics and politics of the time. It includes the integrated self in the Analects of Confucius/Kongzi 孔子, redefining human community in Mozi's墨子 ethical argument, the understanding of cosmic desire and human agency in [End Page 663] the Daodejing 道德經, the conception of human nature as well as the pattern of moral life in the Mencius/Mengzi 孟子, the multiple valences of emotions in the Zhuangzi 莊子, and the composite self and the fulfillment of human nature in the Xunzi 荀子. For the part on Confucius, the author uses the term "integrated self" to argue that emotions, according to Confucius, need to be attuned with the correct way to act, so one achieves moral fulfillment. The role of rituals in regulating human desires and emotions is also discussed. According to the author, while Mozi agreed with Confucius in terms of curbing one's selfish desires, the Mohists saw the Confucian practice of graded love instead of impartial care as the root of social disorder. Meanwhile, the author explores Mozi's approach to emotions in light of Mohist epistemology which influences the Mohist way of understanding the cognitive aspect of moral agency:

Whereas Confucius had envisioned the ideal society as the result of a complex balance of individuals interacting with one another in a differentiated social landscape—and had, accordingly, focused on cultivating the intuitions and emotional dispositions that could sustain proper relationships with one another—Mozi saw it, rather, as arising from the exercise of a shared cognitive capacity to reason and draw proper conclusions, which enabled them to identify with one another and to act toward the well-being of all.

(pp. 73-74)

I would like the author to say more about the relationship between emotions or desires and name or naming (ming 名) in Mohism. In fact, Mozi treated the human...


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pp. 663-667
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